U.S. Withdraws from UNESCO, the U.N.’s Cultural Organization, Citing Anti-Israel Bias

In Budget, States On

The United States will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of next year, the State Department said Thursday, in order to stop accumulating uppaid dues and make a stand on what it said is anti-Israel bias at the U.N.’s educational, science and cultural organization.

In notifying UNESCO of the decision Thursday morning, the State Department said it would like to remain involved as a nonmember observer state. That will allow to United States to remain engaged in debates and activities, though it will lose its right to vote on issues.

The withdrawal of the United States, which was a founding member of the organization after World War II, deals a symbolic blow. But it does not necessarily foreshadow a further retrenchment of U.S. engagement with the United Nations, which the Trump administration has been pushing to bring about strutural and financial reforms.

“This is pragmatic, not a grander political signal,” said John McArthur, a fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution and an advisor to the UN Foundation.

The most immediate impact is that the U.S. will halt the arrears it has run up since it stopped funding the organization in 2011 to protest admitting Palestine as a full member. By the end of this calendar year, the unpaid U.S. bill will amount to $550 million. With no sign that U.S. concerns would be addressed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to pull out after Dec. 31, 2017, when the unpaid balance will top $600 million.

State Department officials said they hope the withdrawal will  help push UNESCO to make changes that would satisfy Washington so the U.S. can resume full membership.

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